Last week, an Austrian developer hit the headlines when it revealed Mass Effect Andromeda's much-anticipated single-player DLC had been cancelled.
The unknown Sinclair Networks claimed to have provided support to a number of big game publishers and to have worked with Mass Effect developer BioWare on Andromeda's recent patches. Sinclair was also helping with Andromeda's single-player DLC, it claimed, but had now been informed it was canned.
The only thing is, Sinclair Networks did not exist. The company was fake, its "employees" were internet acquaintances who enjoyed boasting of their own importance. Sinclair Networks never worked on a single game.
When BioWare staff spoke out via Twitter to state they had no knowledge of the company, Mass Effect fans were upset. After the recent report Mass Effect had been put on ice, the franchise's community was back to not having any formal confirmation of Andromeda's future.
Fan anger turned to Sinclair Networks, as the Mass Effect reddit began investigating the company's credentials. Under fire, the hoaxers headed for the hills. But I was able to speak to one former employee before he did so, too.
While we can't talk about future yet, I can def say we build our own dlc/patches for our games and don't hire fake companies to do so.— Fernando Melo (@DiscoBabaloo) June 29, 2017
Never heard of Sinclair Networks. Ever.— Michael Gamble (@GambleMike) June 29, 2017
Sinclair Networks had operated on Facebook under the guise of a real company for several months - its founder, Patrick Sinclair, has now deleted his profile and his fake company's details.
But the page started off as a positive project - a tech support page where people could turn for help.
"They did like an online support thing for people," Steven Reese, a former friend of Sinclair, told me. Reese, from Hawaii, was listed as a staff member of Sinclair Networks but had never met anyone else from the company. Rather, he just chatted with them via Facebook. "If people posted on the page or sent messages we always tried to help," he said.
Sinclair Networks would post official patch notes for games like The Division to attract fans to its Facebook page - although many of its Likes were fake, Reese said.
"When I was there we offered advice to people making gaming rigs and stuff like that but Jorg [Kellar, another friend of Sinclair's] wanted to make it look more official and like an actual company."
The company only ever listed a handful of employees - including Reese, Kellar and Sinclair. We've tried and failed to get in contact with the latter two.
When investigating the company, reddit users began poking into the background of people who had simply received PC help from Sinclair Networks' Facebook page. Names of these people were published online as possible co-conspirators. I spoke to one person who had previously received help from Sinclair who had woke up, panicked, to messages on his phone telling him reddit was looking into his connections to the company.
This person, who asked to remain anonymous, contacted Sinclair several months ago for help learning HTML. He had received it, and thought nothing more until the company posted their hoax.
"[It's] not a real company," Reese continued, "it's a few guys who like to troll people. When I joined we use to post patch notes. But then they started posting rumors about DLC and nonsense. Changing their details to be a 'developer' and I bailed.
"It's just a few trolls trying to get a reaction through fake news and bullshit like that to trigger the gullible. Now they been called out they ran for the hills."
Sinclair Network's now-deleted Facebook page included a link to the company's website which redirected to another company, CiscoAustria. We've contacted it for comment too, but are yet to hear back.
"[I've] no idea what that is," Reese says when asked about CiscoAustria. "When Jorg started adding addresses and then creating fake IMDB stuff I backed out.
"I met Patrick in a GTA group about three years ago. Started that page about two years ago and he bought fans from some kind of online service to make it look popular. Met Jorg in a Overwatch group about two years ago. Both seemed kinda legit and knew about computers but the last four months got really suspect."
Reese seemed surprised by the number of fans who had believed the hoax. In the Mass Effect community, Sinclair Network's legitimacy had been debated, but there were two points to support its claim. Firstly, big budget developers often work with support studios on larger projects - and often these external developers receive little or no public attention. Secondly, with BioWare Montreal downsized following the disappointing launch of Mass Effect Andromeda, fans thought the idea of another studio stepping in to help with DLC was possible.
Sinclair Networks had attempted other hoaxes in the past. Reese remembers Sinclair posting a fake Ghost Recon Wildlands DLC rumour, which riled up a few fans but failed to find larger traction. But with the internet still waiting for BioWare to speak officially about the future of Mass Effect Andromeda, Sinclair's latest and likely final hoax spread like wildfire.
An EA spokesperson confirmed to Eurogamer neither EA or BioWare had previously known of Sinclair Networks. Despite repeated requests for comment since Andromeda's launch, EA has declined to confirm or deny the status of any Mass Effect Andromeda single-player DLC.
A Kotaku report last Friday stated no single-player DLC was planned, due to the fact Andromeda's Montreal team was no longer around to make it. A source close to BioWare has told me similar - no single-player DLC is currently in production or planned at this time.
Andromeda now looks like it will be the only Mass Effect game without single-player expansions, despite various teases in the main game itself. Andromeda leaves several plot threads dangling - the Benefactor, the kett, Ryder's family, and the much-discussed quarian ark. BioWare is known for creating hugely enjoyable and fan-favourite expansions, such as Mass Effect 2's Lair of the Shadow Broker, Mass Effect 3's Citadel and Dragon Age Inquisition's Trespasser. The lack of any further support for Andromeda only speaks to the franchise's current standing.
BioWare has remained tellingly silent on the future of the Mass Effect franchise - a situation Sinclair Networks took advantage of. With BioWare's new IP Anthem set to be a "10-year journey" and a new Dragon Age game in early development to support as well, there's no knowing when Mass Effect may or may not return. But one things for certain - it won't be from Sinclair.